Report Confirms Wang Lijun Sought Asylum

A preliminary report circulated among Chinese government officials following the dismissal of Bo Xilai asserts that the former Chongqing party chief had planned to disrupt a corruption investigation into his own family and purge , the former top lieutenant who disappeared in February amid rumors of an attempted defection. From The New York Times:

A version of the report, posted on a Chinese Web site and verified independently, provides a rare glimpse of the government’s internal efforts to manage one of its biggest political earthquakes in years. Some officials are worried that the purge of Mr. Bo could upset plans for a transfer of power to a new generation of party leaders this fall.

The report also states for the first time that the Chongqing police chief who set off that earthquake — Mr. Bo’s trusted aide, Wang Lijun — had sought political asylum when he fled to a United States consulate to escape Mr. Bo’s wrath.

The Communist Party Central Committee circulated the findings to ranking party and government officials on Friday, one day after the announcement of Mr. Bo’s dismissal. Its contents were confirmed by a researcher at a ministry-level institute and by a Chongqing official briefed by colleagues who were present when the report was read at a government meeting.

Post-mortems continue to emerge following last week’s announcement that the Chinese government had replaced Bo, ending his push for a seat on the Politburo’s elite Standing Committee and likely the Politburo itself. Ian Johnson speculates in The New York Review of Books that Bo’s removal from the Politburo will take place at this fall’s 18th party congress, where the next generation of leaders will take the reins of the party, and he adds that Bo’s troubles may have begun years before the controversy surrounding Wang Lijun forced Bo’s polarizing candidacy to the forefront:

People often spoke of a “Chongqing model” of greater state control and leftist ideology. There was something to that, but Bo’s reforms actually included something for almost everyone. Some were progressive, such as helping farmers, some statist, such as huge public works programs, and others pro-business, such as courting investment. Civil libertarians were unhappy because he trampled on the law in pursuit of organized crime but this is par for the course in China; the past decade has seen a steady erosion of rule of law and a rise of extra-judicial detention for government opponents or ethnic leaders. Amid this trend, Bo’s tactics were hardly revolutionary.

Instead, it was the very fact that he was offering these measures as a kind of systemic reform that was a rebuke to the central leadership. It’s a little unfair to say that Premier Wen Jiabao and party boss Hu Jintao allowed China to stagnate during their decade in power. Since the 1990s, China has become a major player on the world stage, boasts the world’s second-largest economy, successfully hosted the Olympics, and has shown more attention to the poor by implementing rural health care, building roads to poor areas, and providing a subsistence-level welfare.

But there’s a growing sense among many Chinese that their country’s government needs to undertake serious reforms. In China as elsewhere rising prosperity means rising expectations—especially for more transparency and openness, and less . And all of this, of course, has been magnified through the country’s anarchic social media, like microblogging. Although under government control, these sites still pressure the government in ways that were rare in the past.

Bo’s policies in Chongqing highlighted these problems too openly. Even in his last press conference, a few days before his dismissal, he pointed out that China’s Gini coefficient—a generally recognized way of measuring economic disparity—was terrible and getting worse. The idea of having to deal with such a domineering person must have been abhorrent to the incoming leadership team of Xi Jinping (himself the son of another famous general) and Li Keqiang (a close associate of Premier Wen who is considered a technocrat meant to run the economy). Like all new Chinese leaders Xi and Li will be relatively weak and only acquire power with time; Bo would have been by far the highest-profile and most media-savvy member of the nine-man team if he had been let in.

While the press has largely vilified Bo in recent weeks, TIME’s Hannah Beech – who interviewed a Bo ally in the midst of his infamous “Red Culture” drive last year – takes a more sober approach to dissecting his demise:

But there is another lesson from the Bo affair that is less heartening. Only one high-level Chinese politician has cultivated a public persona in recent years — and now this populist figure has been kneecapped. The man chosen to replace Bo is another gray-faced apparatchik whose most interesting biographical detail is the fact that he studied economics at a North Korean university. Compare that with Bo, a self-promoter who lavishly publicized his red-culture campaign. He also led a high-profile crusade against local mafia that even his supporters admit netted innocents along with gangsters. Bo held press conferences and, unlike practically every other Chinese leader, didn’t read out scripted answers. He relished political theater. “ is not a good politician for China,” says Yang Fan, an economist who co-authored a book called The Chongqing Model and was schooled in Beijing with Bo’s brother. “If he was American, he could have been successful by winning elections. But in China, there are basically no elections, and being too high profile doesn’t mesh with our political culture.”

It’s easy to disassociate from a disgraced politician, but Yang had been taking Bo to task since last year, when the Chongqing boss seemed swathed in political Kevlar. Chief among the economist’s criticisms was the fact that Bo’s leadership style and political ambitions were hindering efforts to make Chongqing a better place. Bo is an extreme embodiment of some of modern China’s biggest contradictions. How does a man preside over a red-culture campaign that echoed the Cultural Revolution when his own mother died during that turbulent period? As China’s Commerce Minister from 2004 to ’07, Bo negotiated trade deals with the West and impressed foreign envoys with his charm and colloquial English. His son, who attended Harrow and Oxford, has been spotted racing around in a red Ferrari. How could Bo arrive in Chongqing, China’s fastest-growing city, and suddenly spout iterations of Chairman Mao’s class-busting ideology? “Last May, I said on my blog that Bo Xilai wanted to become Mao Zedong,” Yang told me after Bo’s dismissal. “But he failed because in today’s China there is no need for a Mao.”

See also a Charlie Rose discussion of Bo Xilai’s downfall with Richard McGregor of the Financial Times and Damian Ma of the Eurasia Group last week.